Taylor Martinez can do just about anything on a football field, except use a headset.
“He didn’t even know how to turn it on,” Ron Kellogg III said following Nebraska’s 59-20 victory against South Dakota State. “I’ll give him some tips on how to work the headset next time.”
Kellogg knows how to work one. He’s done it a lot during his Husker career.
Whether there will be a next time depends on the health of Martinez, who watched the South Dakota State game from the sideline, out of uniform and with the headset, after figuring it out.
Martinez was held out of the game because of a turf-toe injury, his quarterback’s job capably handled by Kellogg, a fifth-year senior, and Tommie Armstrong, Jr., a redshirt freshman.
Armstrong got the start, but the two shared snaps. And after they directed the Huskers to a comfortable lead, Ryker Fyfe, a redshirt freshman walk-on, also got an opportunity.
The victory provided some calm in an otherwise turbulent week. Watching a young quarterback, in particular, perform as advertised during his recruitment will do that to fans. So will seeing a patient, team-oriented veteran such as Kellogg finally get an opportunity.
Now Nebraska has a bye-week before opening Big Ten play against Illinois at Memorial Stadium. Then the Huskers will go on the road for the first time – six weeks into the season – travel to Purdue, take another week off and play at Minnesota before the heart of the conference schedule.
The bye-week comes at a good time for Nebraska’s defense, which gave up 465 yards to a FCS team, albeit a very good FCS team, featuring an outstanding running back in Zach Zenner, who rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns, on just 21 carries and in three quarters.
Zenner didn’t carry in the fourth quarter, after the game was out-of-hand.
Why all the numbers? Well, despite the decisive victory, Husker coach Bo Pelini had some justified concerns about the defense, some of them fundamental – such as tackling, or more to the point, missed tackles, a problem that has plagued the Huskers since the season-opening kickoff.
“We tackle in practice. You stress it. You drill it. You do tackling drills,” he said.
Yet the problem remains.
“I just told our guys, ‘Let’s face it, guys, there has to be a mentality. You have to have a certain kind of mentality when you take the field.’ I just feel like, sometimes, we’re sitting back, taking it,” said Pelini.
By “taking it” he didn’t mean the field.
“There has to be a sense of urgency,” he said. “A big part of playing defense is having an attitude. Right now, we don’t have the right attitude. That starts with us as coaches.”
Numbers can be mind-numbing, of course, but consider these. Nebraska has allowed, on average, 463.8 yards per game during non-conference play. Only one team in school history has given up more than 400 yards per game over the course of a season, the one in 2007 (476.8).
Ironically, perhaps, Nebraska’s offense displayed the quality for which Pelini was looking.
“We had an attack mentality, which is kind of the opposite (of) what we played defensively,” he said. “We played on our heels and indecisive defensively.
“A big part of this game is your mental approach. It’s a huge part of this game. I think our offensive coaches did a lot better job. I think we condensed what we were doing. I thought it helped us. I thought we played fast offensively.”
The Huskers, with Armstrong and Kellogg managing the offense, finished with over 300 yards both rushing (335) and passing (310), the first time that’s happened, ever.
“I’m really happy for those two quarterbacks,” Pelini said. “I thought they did really well. That was our best rhythm offensively. I thought we came out and got done what we needed to get done.”
Armstrong directed touchdown drives on his first two series, and his first pass at Nebraska was complete, to I-back Ameer Abdullah, for a 28-yard gain.
Martinez served as a mentor, as he has since last spring. “He just told me to be patient and stay level-headed and run the offense, don’t try to rush the game, don’t try to win the game by myself, just trust in my teammates and be a leader,” said Armstrong.
Kellogg also was a mentor to Armstrong and to Martinez, his roommate, about the headset.
“I get to tease him about it later,” Kellogg said.